The Merits of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

BCBusiness, August 1, 2011

Some 10 years ago, word of mouth emerged as a form of guerrilla marketing to help cash-strapped small businesses get noticed in the marketplace. Word-of-mouth marketing aims to generate buzz about a business, with the hope that it will eventually reach those who actually need whatever the business is selling. One Vancouver company has raised word-of-mouth marketing to new levels as it has expanded over the past decade. And it’s doing it in an industry that hasn’t changed substantially in 100 years.

The Problem
Nurse Next Door Professional Homecare began as a home-care business that wanted to shake up an industry that has operated in the same way for more than a century: caregivers provide nursing services in the homes of clients instead of in hospitals. But how would Nurse Next Door, which uses franchisees to deliver its services, let potential customers know it was disrupting this traditional industry?

The Solution
Brand Defense: John DeHart chooses blogging over litigation after a perceived slight

Co-founders Ken Sim and John DeHart decided to avoid traditional marketing altogether, opting instead for a guerrilla approach. Following a technique postulated by the writer Seth Godin, they relied almost exclusively on word-of-mouth marketing to build their business.

Sim and DeHart outfitted their six initial caregivers with pink cars and encouraged them to park them in their driveways and at strategic locations around the city. The cars were instantly recognizable and created curiosity in passersby, who mentioned them to friends who needed such a service. The pink cars have now become a staple marketing method for the company.

Believing that a recommendation from a friend, neighbour or authority is the ultimate form of marketing, Sim and DeHart also worked diligently to build relationships with doctors and hospital workers. Their only conventional marketing material was a brochure.

Nurse Next Door didn’t advertise, didn’t go to trade shows and didn’t do any of the other kinds of marketing done by other home-care providers or franchise businesses. Today, the company has 43 franchises in Canada and one new franchise in the U.S., where it hopes to expand further.

Even today, the company has no traditional marketing materials. However, it does recognize that new technology such as social media can greatly amplify its word-of-mouth technique. Claiming to be the “loudest” and “boldest” operation in the industry, it uses Twitter as a brand builder.

This recognition of the power of social media stood the company in good stead earlier this year when a more traditional competitor slagged it on a website. Nurse Next Door linked to the website, and answered with a description of its model. Then it spread the word on the Internet, and asked everyone to pass it on.

The campaign earned Nurse Next Door publicity in a Wall Street Journal blog and Inc. magazine. This coverage in turn became fodder for more word-of-mouth marketing.

• Be choosy. Marketing today, especially for smaller businesses, is about talking with not just anyone, but with those who appreciate your approach and style.

• Think in real time. Keep an eye on events, and when you find one that might fit your philosophy and style, act fast. Do what’s needed to get people talking about you.

• Replace money with creativity. In word-of-mouth marketing, talk about you flows from the bottom to the top and covers all points in between. Using it is much more cost-effective than trying to sell to people directly from the top down.